Tuesday, 4 December 2007
John McGuinness (Minister of State with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
I omitted to mention to Senator Ó Domhnaill that I appreciate his comments and suggestions and that I will bring them to the attention of the Minister.
I thank Senator Keaveney for raising this matter on the Adjournment. The Government decided in July 2005 to improve geographic access for patients in the north west to radiation oncology services. It was decided to facilitate access to Belfast City Hospital and to progress consideration of a joint venture for the provision of oncology services in the medium term to patients in the north west from a satellite centre in the north west linked to Belfast City Hospital.
Cancer patients in the north west requiring radiation oncology treatment are referred to either St. Luke's Hospital, Dublin or University College Hospital, Galway. As the House is aware, a service level agreement is also in place for the referral of radiation oncology patients from Donegal to Belfast City Hospital.
The Health Service Executive has informed the Department of Health and Children that a mid-term review of this arrangement was held in September. At that point, 12 patients had used the service. This represents 24% of the initial estimate of patient demand. The HSE expects that uptake will continue to increase, but the figure of 50 was an initial upper estimate of demand and not a target, as this facility is offered for the benefit of those patients whose circumstances would be suited by the shorter journey to Belfast and the possibility of mid-week or daily return home. However, this is only one factor in a patient's decision and may not be the most important one for each individual.
The actual uptake for Belfast is a matter of individual patient choice following advice from a consultant. It was never expected that the majority of Donegal radiotherapy patients would choose to go to Belfast rather than Dublin given family and social connections, transport links, and the fact their initial consultation is with a consultant from St. Luke's Hospital. The HSE has advised that this service effectively commenced in March 2007. Patients are seen by the visiting consultant radiation oncologist in Letterkenny General Hospital who is attached to St Luke's Hospital, Dublin, and those whom he considers would benefit from radiotherapy are offered the choice of having their treatment in Dublin or Belfast.
The HSE has informed the Department also that transport arrangements have been put in place to facilitate patients who wish to go to Belfast. Patients who go to Belfast report satisfaction with their experience. The initial phase of this agreement comes to an end on 31 December, following which a comprehensive review of the service is to be carried out.
This agreement reflects the significant commitment by Government to developing North-South co-operation in health. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, met Minister Michael McGimpsey of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland on 28 November last. The potential for further cross-Border co-operation and collaboration on cancer care and, specifically, provision of a satellite centre for radiation oncology in the north west linked to Belfast City Hospital was discussed in the context of a joint North-South feasibility study on the potential for future co-operation.
The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland, including Donegal. There is considerable political, departmental and service commitment to delivering on this agreement with Belfast City Hospital. It is important this initiative succeeds as it will support further co-operation in health care, including cancer care.